I continue to be amazed by today’s advances in technology, especially that available for the mass-consumer market. One area where technology has made incredible advances is computer-editing. This holiday season millions of new Mac users will discover two software programs that come built-in with each new Mac – I-Movie and Garage Band. The programs are really amazing – and as many teenagers have discovered, are a lot of fun. Their user friendly design allows any 10-year old to become a music producer, or film director or editor, and make videos at a quality unheard of only a few years ago. This creativity is fueling the rise of next generation Internet sites like YouTube.
While millions of consumers are now realizing how easy it is to make and edit professional home movies, some are wondering why consumers aren’t able to edit out the objectionable parts of movies they want to watch in the privacy of their own home. If editing films is now as easy as a few mouse clicks, they ask, why can’t parents take out the 60-90 seconds of raunch that makes the PG-13 movie an R-rated movie? If they were allowed to make these quick edits, families could watch more movies together without the embarrassment or discomfort when younger children are present.
Some would-be entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are asking the same thing. Companies poised to bring user-friendly home-editing software packages to market to help families edit the DVD’s they buy don’t dare because of a special-interest favor that Hollywood lobbyists have inserted into copyright law.
This special-interest favor creates the discrepancy between how copyright law treats CDs and how it treats DVDs. CDs aren’t encrypted so they are allowed to be copied onto your computer as a backup copy (in case the CD gets scratched) or downloaded into your I-pod. But DVDs are encrypted, which prevents legitimate and noncommercial consumer uses like moving your DVD to your iPod. Thanks to Hollywood’s lobbyists, any attempt to unlock this encryption – even for entirely legal purposes -- is punishable by a $150,000 fine. So the result for the consumer is an all-or-nothing equation. Once you buy the DVD you have to watch it the way Hollywood tells you, even though you own it.
This is inconsistent with both the Fair Use Doctrine and common sense. Hollywood has to clean up its movies to put them on TV, or for viewing on an airplane but Hollywood and Congress refuse to allow parents to have the ability to clean up the movies for their own kids in the privacy of their own homes.
Representatives Rick Boucher (D-VA) and John Doolittle (R-CA) believe this is wrong. They have introduced legislation, the Fair Use Act, which would empower parents to edit movies without risking a huge fine. It would also allow the companies that make editing technologies to manufacture these products without fear of the nuisance lawsuits which Hollywood is using to intimidate companies from bringing these products to market.
There are lots of movies that we’d like to show the entire family this holiday season. Many are almost, but not quire, suitable for family viewing. Taking a few minutes of carnage out of Braveheart could render it viewable for children – it could inspire our kids while sparing them the gore that we don’t want them to see at a young age. Why can’t parents be allowed to edit their own movies?
It’s only fair.